Hempstead Town Councilman Dennis Dunne Sr., in May 2021. The town...

Hempstead Town Councilman Dennis Dunne Sr., in May 2021. The town issued a statement that Dunne's 2020 financial disclosures "were submitted to the Town on time.” Credit: James Escher

Hempstead Town Councilman Dennis Dunne Sr. filed his 2020 financial disclosure statement with the town ethics board more than two years late, following inquiries from Newsday about the document.

The eight-page disclosure includes questions about assets, outside employment and income and political party leadership roles. 

Hempstead Town law requires that officials, including board members, the supervisor, and department heads and employees in policymaking and political leadership positions, file their annual financial disclosure statements for the previous calendar year by May 15. The requirement to post the forms on the town website within 30 days of filing was part of an ethics reform law passed by the town board in 2017 aimed at preventing conflicts of interest when the town awards contracts and approves other town business.

A redacted portion of Councilman Dunne's 2020 financial disclosure statement.

A redacted portion of Councilman Dunne's 2020 financial disclosure statement. Credit: Town of Hempstead

Nine current and former town-elected officials filed their 2020 reports past the deadline, but all except Dunne's were dated within 2½ months of the deadline, according to the forms posted on the town’s website. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Councilman Dennis Dunne Sr. filed his 2020 financial disclosure form on Nov. 30 — 929 days after it was due.
  • All nine Hempstead town elected officials — current and former — who were required to file 2020 forms missed the May 15, 2021, deadline.
  • Failure to file the form can be punished by a fine of up to $10,000 or be referred to law enforcement for criminal prosecution. 

Dunne filed his document on Nov. 30 — 929 days past the May 15, 2021, deadline, according to the posting.

Councilman Dunne’s signature on his document.

Councilman Dunne’s signature on his document. Credit: Town of Hempstead

Newsday submitted a Freedom of Information Law request on Nov. 22 for the 2020 disclosure for elected officials, which were subsequently posted online on Dec. 1, nine days later. 

Dunne did not respond to an interview request, but town spokesman Greg Blower in a Dec. 7 statement said, “Councilman Dunne has indicated that his 2020 financial disclosures were submitted to the Town on time.” 

Town Supervisor Donald Clavin's form was dated June 30, 2021, about six weeks after the filing deadline.

The town posted 2022 disclosure forms for elected officials in October — 121 days late, following inquiries from Newsday. At that time, Newsday also reported that the 2020 forms had not been posted as of Nov. 5.

"The disclosure forms are all part of our commitment to ethical, transparent, professional, responsible government," Pace University law professor Bennett Gershman said. "It's an anti-corruption requirement and people who don't comply, they might raise all sorts of suspicions."

Those suspicions can be whether officials are involved in any self-dealing or conduct that could warrant an investigation, Gershman said. 

Blakeman, others among 2020 late filers

A review of dates on the 2020 forms shows none of the elected officials filed their statements on time, including then-Councilman Bruce Blakeman, who is now Nassau County executive. He filed on June 30, 2021.

Other elected officials who filed their forms late include then-Councilman Anthony D'Esposito; Councilman Christopher Carini; Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby; Receiver of Taxes Jeanine Driscoll; Town Clerk Kate Murray, and Councilman Thomas Muscarella.

“Mr. Blakeman’s recollection was that this was at the height of the COVID pandemic and the town attorney’s office was decimated with COVID illness,” county spokesman Chris Boyle said in an email on Dec. 8. “Therefore, the forms were given to Mr. Blakeman on June 30th, and he filled them out and submitted them the same day.”

D’Esposito, who is now a U.S. congressman, filed his statement dated June 30, 2021. His office did not respond to a request for comment. 

'The ethics are pretty clear'

Gershman said officials may get extensions to file late or seek exemptions that could delay filing, but sometimes the reason is laziness or incompetence. 

"The ethics are pretty clear. There's a requirement and it's an important requirement in state law that these disclosure forms have to be filled out properly," Gershman said. "If they don't do it, they face consequences, [and] the consequences can be very serious."

Both state law and the Hempstead Town code authorize the ethics board to impose civil penalties of up to $10,000 for failing to file and give it the option of referring a case to law enforcement for criminal prosecution. Although the statutes don't address the issue of filing late, two legal experts said the ethics board could impose penalties for tardiness. 

"The statute does provide the ability to impose a fine for not meeting the deadline," said Huntington Station-based attorney Paul Sabatino, a former counsel to the Suffolk County Legislature, said, referring to the town code. 

The ethics board has discretion in how to pursue violations that would take into account the "facts and circumstances" surrounding the late filing, Sabatino said.

For it to be a criminal matter would require that the failure to file be an "intentional and willful act," Sabatino said. 

Russ Haven, general counsel of the New York Public Interest Research Group, a government watchdog organization, said in an email that a fair reading of state law "is that the statement is not 'filed' if it's not received by that date or a late filing isn't otherwise excused."

The town's ethics board would have the latitude to consider "any ambiguities as well as mitigating circumstances" when applying the code, Haven said. 

The town ethics code doesn't specify who is responsible for posting the forms online.

A spokesman for Nassau County District Attorney Anne T. Donnelly said in an email on Dec. 7: “We have not received a referral" from the town ethics board. 

Attempts to reach town ethics board chairman Watson Bell and the town’s ethics counsel, Roslyn-based attorney Steven Leventhal, were unsuccessful.

Town Attorney John Maccarone, who is a member of the ethics board, did not respond to questions emailed about whether the town ethics board imposed penalties on Dunne or anyone else required to file disclosure forms. 

Reminders on pending forms

Meeting minutes from 2021 through 2023 obtained by Newsday through an Open Meetings Law request show the ethics board has had difficulty with compliance.

Minutes from March 3, 2022, show the ethics board discussed the fact that 38 disclosures were outstanding.

“Steven Leventhal will prepare a gentle reminder to be sent out,” about the late forms, the minutes show.

Leventhal repeatedly told the ethics board to steer away from imposing punitive measures, minutes show.

“Mr. Leventhal explained that the emphasis of the board was prevention, not enforcement,” minutes from Sept. 29, 2021, show.

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